Writing with more stick, less carrot

dangerouswritingappI wanted to quickly tell you about the most dangerous writing app. No, seriously, that’s what it’s called: The Most Dangerous Writing App. It’s a powerful tool. But also, you know, dangerous.

It’s not something that works for me if I’m honest, but it’s really interesting. And if you’re a writer who need a little “push” to stay motivated, it might be just what you’re looking for.

Check it out here. It’s not particularly difficult to get your head around. Basically you have to keep typing for a set amount of time (that you decide), or you’ll lose all of your work. The idea of that is so terrifying for some, that they’ll just keep on writing.

I like the idea. Often just ploughing on is the best way to get decent work onto the page. You might think that what you’re writing is all terrible, but actually, when you go back and look at it, you realise that there are some real gems in there. Okay, maybe not every time. But more often than not just writing in a stream of consciousness can be really beneficial.

It might be the best thing for you, it might be the worst. So why not try it? See if being forced to write works for you!


My Novel Editing Process

writing padAs I write this, (late January 2019, just getting a couple of blog posts done in advance!) I’m in the early revision stage of a new novel. I won’t bore you with it, suffice to say it’s going well.

I’ve been asked a few times about my novel editing process. And as it’s a fairly quirky one, I wondered if it would be interesting to read about? I don’t know, but it works for me, and if you can steal even an aspect of it, then why not?

I’m going to deal with two applications: The first is the one I currently use to write my novels, which is Ulysses for the mac and iOS devices. I can’t recommend it enough. But this isn’t a review of that app.

The second app is Vellum: a mac-based ebook generator. The only other tools are a pen and notepad, and a Kindle e-reader. The e-ink kind, not the tablet.

Okay, and in a few simple bullet points, here’s what I do:

  • I export the whole novel from Ulysses with a customised version of the Vellum export preset, as a .docx file.
  • I open the .docx file in Vellum. It automatically works out the chapters, scene breaks, etc.
  • I do some tiny tweaks to taste – just aesthetics so it’ll look nice to read, almost like a finished ebook. This is just for me, a little indulgence so I can see it in a way that maybe readers will see it.
  • I then export the project in Vellum as a Kindle .mobi file. This is the Mobipocket format that Amazon purchased the rights to years ago. Their e-readers are all 100% compliant with the format and display it pretty much perfectly from what I can tell.
  • I copy the file over to my Kindle.
  • I read it, slowly and carefully cover to cover. Any mistakes or changes, I document in detailed notes in a notepad. I should do this on an iPad really, my handwriting is terrible. But it works for me.
  • When I’m done (and this takes many days, doing maybe a couple or more chapters a day) I go back into my original Ulysses project and and make the changes there.
  • And that’s it. Rinse and repeat until it’s good enough to show to an actual editor! Starting from the first bullet point, I do all of this again and again until I think it’s there.

Only until I’ve done this whole process in two or three cycles, will I have what I consider a “proper” first draft.

Anyway, that’s me. I’m sure you have better ways that work for you – just thought I’d share mine!

How “eLibraries” Work Today – And How They SHOULD Work


Despite the boldness of the title, I’m not too sure that I have the best solution here, but the way it works for most libraries is simply daft.

Regular old “dead tree” books are typically purchased for the recommended retail price or less by a library, who then make an electronic note every time a book is rented out. Each rental equals pennies, or in some parts of the world, a fraction of a penny, which then finds its way usually once a year back to the publisher and, ultimately, author.

Fair enough. That’s the system we’ve had for years, and by and large, it seems to work.

But ebooks tend to operate in a very different way, and I don’t think it’s very fair on libraries or readers. Partly because it’s based on the old “dead tree” paradigm: namely that each library can only have a finite number of copies.

Ebook “rentals” are currently like how video rentals used to be in the glory days of Blockbuster (may it rest in peace). Video stores used to get access to movies a good 6-12 months before the general public. When a film was available to the public, it maybe cost say, £10-£15 in the UK. But the rental pre-release was some £60-£150 pounds. A lot of money. The video rental company would have to guess how many copies they might need, and pay that much for each copy. In return, they only had to pay a fraction of the rental price back to the studio, and could pocket the rest. After all, they are the ones taking the risk and buying the videos at great cost in the first place.

Then, after the movie Titanic, things changed. James Cameron made sure that Titanic was released to the public at the same time that it was available to the professional rental market. So the video rental business only had to pay the same price as anybody else for that video. However, it meant that the video rental companies had to give the movie studio a much larger percentage of every copy rented. Soon after, everyone copied the business model. It worked better for all of them. Less risk for rental companies, and more revenue (if the film was good) for the studios.

Obviously streaming ate the video/DVD/Blu-ray rental business’ lunch for other reasons in the end, but that’s not the point of the story. The point is when it comes to ebooks, things work on the same floored model as the old VHS rental market of the 80s and 90s.

Currently an “eLibrary” buys (at a much higher than retail price) a set number of licenses for ebooks. Then they pay a tiny amount of each license rented, that goes back to the publisher. It’s bad for customers, (if your chosen ebook is currently being rented out to 10 people, and the “eLibrary” you’re using only has 10 licenses, you’re going to have to wait, just like with a traditional physical book), but it’s also bad for the “eLibraries”: They have to guess how many licenses to purchase in advance, and risk lots of money. Libraries aren’t exactly organisations with an abundance of wealth.

So an idea I had, was to do to ebook rentals what Titanic did to the video rental business. Allow “eLibraries” an unlimited amount of licenses. No charge. But each time the book is rented out, the small fee that ends up in the publisher’s hands is slightly larger. A popular book gets more, a less popular book gets, well, less.

Amazon is in certain ways already doing this, with an aspect of its Prime service. As an author who makes use of it, I can tell you that – for me and many of my readers at least – it works.

Could we see this rolled out in more ways? I really don’t know. I say let a thousand business models bloom, and the best will stand up on their own. But I’m sure about one thing: the current broken model shouldn’t be allowed to last.

The Growth of Short Stories

Books PileThe ebook revolution rolls on.

We have seen the discovery of fantastic new writers who, because they were able to self-publish and get their work out digitally, have managed to achieve commercial success through the new meritocratic medium. But it’s not just authors themselves seeing success. It’s different types of books doing well too.

There’s strong growth in romantic and erotic fiction these days. And if you think about it, it makes sense: we can’t see the cover of what you’re reading. The old “embarrassment factor” of these books goes away. That almost certainly explains part of the success of the Fifty Shades novels, for example.

But regardless of genre, what’s really interesting is that short stories have seen a real boost. Amazon’s Kindle Singles account for a fair percentage of the overall market on the world’s biggest platform.

It’s great to see short stories get the coverage they deserve. For quite a while there wasn’t a good business model for them. The magazine publications of short stories are now few and far between, with editors unable to commission anyway near as much work as they used to. And for paperback books, there’s a serious problem with economy of scale. Making a 50-page book doesn’t cost much less than a 500-page book. But you can’t sell it for much less. Any why would people pay the same about for a short story as a long one?

But when it comes to electronic distribution, it doesn’t matter whether something is 50 pages or 500. You can still make money by selling it at the price you think it appropriate. There can still be an economic case for publishing. And what an exciting new wave of possibilities for new writers. Vive La Short Story!

Getting over “Writers Block” – Writers different solutions

Writers BlockYou may have already read my take on writers block. Readers still write to me about that article saying they either love it or hate it. Some say it’s too flippant. A number of very touching ones say that they’ve been waiting for someone to put it into words like that and now they no longer fear the blank page. Two have even told me they’ve got it printed out on their walls!

Well other writers have very different takes to me, and so as a festive gift, I thought I’d leave you with a link to the views of some of them. This is a post from about this time last year from the Writing Cooperative on Medium, on how the editors of that fine publication try and “get over” writers block. Some of these people would almost certainly disagree with my stance, but I found their views really interesting, so I thought you’d like to read them for yourselves. Happy holidays!

Elmore Leonard – The Grand Master

Here’s another couple of videos from the CFA. I posted some from Lee Child a few months back.

Here, in his last in-depth talk and interview before he died, is the legendary Elmore Leonard. I honestly enjoy his work more than almost anyone else. His style is so simple, that it is easy to overlook just how sophisticated his storytelling abilities are. I don’t fully agree with everything he’s ever said on writing, but when he speaks, it’s always interesting.


To attract a large Audience, be a Selfish Writer

WritingYes, here we go again: another plea to be a selfish writer. I know I’ve banged on about this a number of times, but I only do so because it’s the biggest hurdle to so may writers.

It’s like we have this in-built mechanism to try and please others. I get that. I have it myself. But you have to try and make that feeling go away as much as possible. Write for yourself.

Author or works such as Slaughterhouse Five and Breakfast of Champions, Kurt Vonnegut once said: “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.”

Yeah, he had a way with words. I’ve worked as a radio broadcaster for pretty much my whole working life. A professional presenter knows they’re talking to one person, and phrases their response accordingly, in a subtle way. Statistically the vast majority of people who listen to the radio do so alone. Talking to “you all out there” makes the show and alienating experience, the opposite of what you want. Writing as per Vonnegut’s advice is similar. Pretty much every reader does the activity alone, unless you’re maybe reading a bedtime story with your kids.

It’s about writing for yourself or for one person — never write for the sake of following a trend. Strunk and White spelt this out very poetically in Elements of Style: “Start sniffing at the air, or glancing at the trend machine, and you are as good as dead, although you may make a nice living.”

Don’t write what’s “hip”. Write what you love. If you write it with passion and energy, chances are, you won’t be alone: others will feel that way about the work too. If you write what you feel you “should”, then that energy and enthusiasm could well die out. If you don’t really care about the work your writing, why will any reader?